You CAN Do This! Shattering Your Doubts About Learning the Guitar by Sol Younan
Let me tell you a little bit about myself.
I was born with Cerebral Palsy. I never developed the ability to walk and didn’t really talk until I was about 4 years old. Because of the tension, balance and coordination problems I had as a youngster, I had difficulty getting around, and sitting up on my own. I had done clinical physical and occupational therapies from my infancy, but in their wisdom, my parents (who, lucky for me, were both classically-trained musicians) had a feeling that music could be the way to support those therapies at home. Music was always a part of my home life after all, so it seemed only natural for me to try. And that’s exactly what happened, and then some! At 6 years old, the guitar simply appeared in my life. Honestly, to this day, I don’t remember whether I explicitly decided on the guitar, or if a magical music wizard summoned it from Narnia. All I know is that I became instantly enamoured by what this box with strings could do!
You might be asking “So? Why tell me all this?” Well in short, to demonstrate one simple fact: Despite all your doubts, you CAN do this! My honest hope is that as we go through some common sources of difficulty and doubt that you may have, or are currently experiencing, you’ll gain not only new perspectives, but renewed and lasting excitement about learning!
Doubt: Lack of “Natural” Ability or Age
“I’m just not very musical” or “I’m too old”. It’s surprising how often I still hear these. Many think that because they didn’t grow up in a musical family, have difficulty singing, or had a hard time in grade-school music class, they somehow don’t possess a capacity to learn music. Now granted, while things like early exposure to music can help with ease of learning, it is by no means a requirement. Let me ask you this: Do you sometimes find yourself bobbing your head, humming along, or even anticipating the next lyric to your favourite songs? If so, it’s because of something that’s surprisingly simple, and for those of us who have always wanted to learn, a bit of good news: Whether conscious or unconscious, and regardless of age, music is part of the human experience! Studies have repeatedly shown that the capacity to learn (neuroplasticity) remains with us throughout our lives and what’s more, human-beings are built to not only recognize and appreciate music, but to learn and benefit from it. You may have been slightly unfocused as a kid (…or in my case, as an adult!), but as with any other skill, conscious practice is key. We all have the required equipment, as it were…It just needs to be switched on!
- More than just a skill we cultivate, music is a human tendency that we naturally and viscerally respond to. You are musical!
- Careful practice trumps natural ability every time. If you practice carefully and consistently, you will progress!
- We’re all built to learn…for life! Working with a good, qualified teacher will open your eyes to ways of learning that you may never have considered. No matter your age or ability, you’ll find out how you learn best.
Doubt: Physical or Cognitive Constraints
Often, we may think our hands aren’t big enough, worry about potential finger pain, or the perceived difficulty of reading music. It’s natural to feel worried about all of the things we’ve yet to learn. As with anything else worth doing, you’re virtually guaranteed to experience difficulty at some point. But don’t despair! Over the past few years and decades, there have been many innovative tools to make learning the guitar a more streamlined and fun experience. From high-quality undersized instruments for smaller hands, to hybrid string types that are softer on the fingertips, to digital apps and programs, these learning supports can be invaluable in your progress and creativity.
When it comes to physical concerns like finger agility or coordination, it’s surprising to realise that the muscles are exceedingly trainable. Supported by experienced educators, you will learn techniques to improve the quality of your sound and the ease of your movements. With practice, your dexterity and stamina will improve, and issues such as hand size will gradually fade, as muscular movement and control become more finely honed. Muscle memory will begin to take shape.
Learning to read music, on the other hand, can feel as though you’re reading another language altogether, and, well, it’s because you are! As with any other language, if taught the right material at the right time, you will make progress. Unlike other instruments, the guitar (and other plucked-stringed instruments) can make use of not just standard music notation, but systems of tablature (or TAB, for short). These graphic systems of notation use lines and numbers to represent the strings and frets of the guitar, and can be more easily understood by beginning players, which can encourage playing and experimenting in a very musical way. While these are seemingly opposing systems, they can, and in my humble opinion, should be learned and used equally well, as both have distinct advantages and disadvantages, and simply give us a fuller literacy, which is no bad thing.
- The human body is exceedingly trainable, and effective, purposeful (both process and product-oriented) practice will help to overcome physical, emotional and educational challenges you may experience.
- In addition to the support of teachers, there are many tools available to help you… ask about them, and use them!
- Part of the learning process is to acknowledge limits, while encouraging excellence. Focus on the MISSION!
As a final thought, I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind you of one thing… The common, and most important denominator is you, the learner, holding to one very concrete idea: You must LOVE what you do! That desire and passion to play will lead to consistency, progress and FUN!